"Does Papa and Mama know of Fleur?" Gabrielle asked Hermione as she received a thorough, though chaste, washing from Hermione.
"Yes, Angel. They both know," Hermione said comfortingly. She then took Gabrielle's chin and forced her to look into her eyes.
"Gabrielle, you know you must be strong for Fleur," Hermione said forcefully.
Gabrielle looked down and tried to turn away from Hermione, but her chin felt as if it were in the grip of an iron fist wrapped in silk.
"You will not display weakness in public. Our relationship works so well because, while we may argue, shout, scream, cry, or melt into a pile of despair in private, we present a strong, unified, determined, fearless facade to the public. You cannot display weakness out in the world because there are those who would exploit your weakness to get to us and they would succeed," Hermione explained.
Gabrielle nodded, but Hermione's grip was relentless.
"Gabrielle, answer me and look at me when you talk to me," Hermione ordered, causing Gabrielle's eyes to meet hers, unshed tears clearly evident.
"Will you be strong for Fleur? For your parents? For yourself? For us? Do you want to become an important part of the whole?" Hermione asked in a tone that communicated both a pleading as well as not permitting any vacillation.
Gabrielle stood fully upright, which put the top of her head at Hermione's nose, and squared her shoulders. "I will be strong for us all," she answered clearly, her voice resolute,
Hermione's frown grew to a wide smile. "Good girl. Your first test will be your parents. Even though you are only sixteen, you are no longer a child. Your mother will present a strong face, but inside she is hurting more than you can imagine. Prove to her you are strong. Prove to her you are capable. Prove to her you are a rock for her tears and despair to crash against again and again so that, when she needs to be strong for Fleur herself, she has no sadness left in her heart; only courage and strength."
Gabrielle smiled at Hermione. "I will do my best, Beautiful," she said and quickly kissed Hermione as the older witch's hand slipped from her chin.
Hermione leaned in and gave a brief, though thoroughly intimate, kiss of her own. "That is all I will ever expect of you, Angel. Now. Let us finish and help soothe your parents' hearts."
Gabrielle smiled up at her. "Je t'adore," she whispered and kissed the side of Hermione's smile.
Hermione's smile grew slightly and she shook her head ever so slightly. Her eyes softened as she reverently whispered, "Que tu es belle."
Their shower took slightly longer than they expected to actually get clean again.
Apolline Delacour was an observant and intelligent woman. She believed her youngest daughter had a crush on the famous Man-Who-Won. She also knew the young man in front of them was quite intimately involved with the rather chaotic blonde witch on his left arm and the focused, logical witch who was nowhere to be seen; a condition shared with her youngest daughter.
It was therefore with some surprise to her as Gabrielle stepped into the room with the older witch's arm around her youngest daughter's waist. The brunette witch took her arm from around Gabrielle's waist and took Harry's right arm while Gabrielle took Hermione's right arm.
"Mademoiselle and Monsieur Delacour, welcome to the seat of House Potter and our home," Hermione said and curtsied. Luna, too, curtsied. Surprising her father, Gabrielle also curtsied.
Apolline was perplexed by the formality as they had known all three of the Potters for nearly a decade and all had been to the Delacour home numerous times as close friends. But she did as she always did in strange situations. She watched, listened, and pondered.
Alain, though a senior ministry official in France and quite a political animal, was taken aback and slightly affronted by the formal tone of the greeting.
"Have we done something to insult or offend you, Hermione? Harry? Luna? And Gabrielle, what is this? Come and greet your father properly," he chastised, but he felt his wife's arm snake through his and, due to the grip, knew he was already in trouble with her.
Gabrielle wanted to move to embrace her father, but Hermione held her hand fast.
"Alain," Harry said, causing both Delacour adults to turn their attention to him, "and Apolline, this is the first time we have invited you to our home. A formal welcome is required, much the way it was when we three were first invited into your home," Harry clarified.
"While that was a time of civil war in this country, much of that conflict centred around the lack of respect and understanding those of mixed birth or children of non-magical parents had because those groups of magicals had never been properly taught the histories or purposes behind the rituals that held and hold our societies together," Harry further explained.
The light of understanding shone across Apolline's eyes a moment before Alain also understood the underlying message.
"Lord Potter," Alain said, looking at Harry before he turned his gaze to Hermione, "Lady Potter," he addressed her before his eyes moved to Luna, "and Lady Lovegood. The House of Delacour thanks you and is humbled by the hospitality you have already shown us and we hope our two houses will remain honourable to one another and true friends," Alain answered before he turned his attention to Gabrielle.
"And House Delacour most especially calls out our gratitude for the care and gentle hearts you have already so freely demonstrated to both of our most cherished," Alain said as he looked proudly at the strength his youngest daughter was projecting.
An outside observer would comment that it seemed the elder Delacours, Harry, Hermione, and Luna knew what was about to happen while Gabrielle had not the slightest clue.
A pulse of amber magic flashed through the room from floor to ceiling before coalescing around Alain and Apolline before it once more dissipated into the air.
Both elder Delacours felt as if their magic had been suppressed and any mental shields completely bypassed as every thought, every memory, every experience had been viewed, read, listened to, and judged. Apparently neither had been found wanting.
Harry moved first, drawing the ladies along with him, extricated his arms from Hermione and Luna and embraced Alain in a firm, comfortable hug. Hermione extricated her arm from Gabrielle and hugged Apolline tightly, though not painfully so. After a few moments, Hermione was replaced by Luna, who hugged Apolline just as tightly. Finally, though the hug also included a kiss on the cheek, Gabrielle held her mother in her arms.
Alain and Harry watched as Apolline was hugged by the younger three. At some silent communication from Apolline, Alain turned to Harry.
"Harry, perhaps we can leave the ladies and talk? Man to man?" he asked.
A well-rehearsed hand signal from Hermione let Harry know this was acceptable. "Let's retire to the study, Alain. I think we will enjoy our conversation better with a decent cigar and good cognac," Harry said with exaggerated formality, causing Alain to laugh and follow Harry up the broad spiralling stairs.
As Hermione had foretold, Gabrielle and Apolline sat on the loveseat in the sitting room and Apolline appeared to think she needed to comfort her youngest daughter. When it was apparent Gabrielle had already achieved some level of peace with the situation, she reached out to her mother, who immediately broke down and cried in lament.
She cried tears of sorrow for a world that could allow such a ruthless and heartless bastard to exist much less be allowed to live.
She cried tears of loss for Bill, for Fleur's heart and love, for the as-yet-unborn child who would never know her father.
She cried for the guilt both she and Alain felt in not being able to protect Fleur from the evils of the world.
She cried tears of remorse for not insisting Bill and Fleur come live with them at the family's manor house where they would still be alive and happy together.
She cried tears of pity for the everlasting harm this would cause Fleur and how Fleur would spend the rest of her life alone because no one would want to marry her with the stigma of being raped upon her shoulders.
She cried tears of murderous anger and wanted to drown her daughter's attacker in her tears after her fireballs nearly cooked him to the core.
All during her mother's tearful sobbing, wailing, and angry speech, Gabrielle held her tightly against her and whispered soft, soothing words that countered every one of her mother's arguments and, for the first time in her life, understanding what it was to be truly strong on the outside when all she wanted to do was curl into a ball and sob on someone else's shoulder. But she knew her mother needed her. That Fleur needed her. And that, in repayment for all the times she had been the one crying - the one who was pitiful, sad, and angry – that is was her first instalment of repayment for the insurmountable debt of devotion and understanding her family had always provided for her.
If this were not sufficient enough a reason, she would do it for her not-as-yet, in her mind, family. She would make Hermione proud to call her "Love."
"Look at you, My Gabrielle," Apolline said, once she'd gotten her crying under control. "You are still a little girl on the outside but such a beautiful woman within." Still talking to Gabrielle, she turned to look at Hermione, "Does she know what a wonderful gift you have given her?"
"Mama," Gabrielle said in an iron tone that obviously surprised her mother judging from the way her head whipped around to look at her daughter. She missed seeing Hermione's eyes flash to an illuminated, iridescent gold. "They both, and Harry too, are my future. I am still your daughter, true, but I choose to be with them for the rest of my life."
Apolline watched and listened to the inflection of Gabrielle's voice. There was no guile, no uncertainty. She could see a resolute, determined woman who had decided on a possibly dangerous route to navigate, but with rewards eminently worth the journey.
"I understand, My Gabrielle," Apolline said, still attempting to stifle the tears that continued to fall. Still, she was able to smile at the happiness she knew would fill her youngest daughter's heart. She gently cupped Gabrielle's cheek and looked into her eyes. She was only mildly surprised when she sensed Gabrielle dropping her mental shields and allowing her unfettered access her to her thoughts, hopes, dreams, and memories.
Apolline's mind was literally flooded with memories of Gabrielle's encounters with Hermione, from the bushy-haired, much-younger witch hugging Harry while she removed the blanket from herself and wrapped it and her arms around Gabrielle in an attempt to warm her to the first time Gabrielle had invited Hermione to wash her and had guided the older witch's hands to her centre and Hermione unabashedly pleasuring Gabrielle until the young Veela passed out. And finally, the discussion Hermione had had with Gabrielle regarding the projection of strength and indefatigable resolve projected to those not of their close-knit group.
"I cannot express in words alone how happy I am for you, my child. I believe your loves are worthy of you. You have my blessing, Gabrielle. Not merely my understanding, but I fully accept, appreciate, and bless your union with people I have long held in my heart as worthy of being my own children. You are all now my children of the heart," Apolline declared.
Gabrielle quickly looked over at Hermione, who appeared to be in deep conversation with Luna, but looked at Gabrielle and nodded to her with a smile, communicating far more than her acceptance of Gabrielle. As the two women's eyes met, Gabrielle felt her mind gently touched and Hermione's voice whispered sensually to her, "Welcome to the Family, My Love. Give Apolline a hug from all of her children."
It was as if her mother had been reading her mind. Apolline opened her arms just as Gabrielle opened hers and tearfully hugged her mother, happy that her mother was not only accepting of her less-than-socially-acceptable relationship but actually blessed their relationship even though she knew that Hermione was the core of her love.
Hermione had been watching the interaction and discussion her littlest love was having with her mother and would give Gabrielle whatever support she needed. Ever since Harry had rescued her from the Black Lake, she had the premonition the young Veela would be in her heart for the rest of her days. Her heart soared when Gabrielle had pleadingly looked at her and with no more than a look and a projection of her feelings had let her free to make her own choice. She also wept in relief when Apolline had accepted Gabrielle's choice.
She could feel Luna's joy as well, as the blonde witch squeezed her hands. She looked back to Luna and was quite pleasantly surprised when Luna embraced her and kissed her deeply and passionately. She felt the powerful, all-encompassing, compassionate, shared love coming from Luna as the kiss continued.
Luna was genuinely happy for Hermione and Gabrielle. Not only would this give Gabrielle the understanding, loving, and deeply-committed relationship she deserved, but she knew that, while Hermione truly and unreservedly loved both her and Harry, there had been something missing for some time. Somehow their union still felt incomplete but, based on her dreams, she thought she knew how to make it more complete even with the addition of Gabrielle. It would take another week or two, likely until Christmas Eve, to close their Union and bring about a feeling of completion.
Until then, Luna would enjoy the warm glow Hermione had when she was surrounded by those who loved her and were loved by her.
"You wished to speak privately, Alain?" Harry asked once the door to his study was closed and both men had a dram of cognac.
Alain took a sip of his cognac. "Is he trying to impress me? Henri IV Cognac Grande Champagne?!" he thought, looking at the diamond-encrusted bottle that was more jewellery than vessel. He tried his best to savour the flavour of it, but what he had to discuss with the young man in front of him was priceless to him.
"I believe, Harry, as someone I consider a son, you will cherish Gabrielle as much, if not more so, than I myself do," Alain said bluntly.
Harry had taken the first sip with a great deal of air and swished the cognac around in his mouth, gaining a feel for the complexity of the flavours as it washed and effervesced over his palate while he formulated an answer.
"Alain, before we discuss this too deeply, let me first state that I consider you a man of honour. I hope that feeling is reciprocated," he said after he let the cognac slowly trickle down his throat.
Alain looked at the much younger man and used all his immense power of articulation to stifle his snort at the question. In his own mind, Harry was far more honourable than he, himself. Harry had not merely stood against Voldemort. Harry had stood against his death eaters and those who had been irrecoverably compromised by Tom Riddle and fended them off while non-combatants on both sides had been ferried to safety.
Once those innocents and those who had no stomach to fight had been escorted from the field, Harry, who had clearly been holding back his power, unleashed attack after hellish attack on his foes and come out not merely victorious, but the victor without question.
"Harry, you are quite likely the most honourable man I have ever heard of, much less met," Alain answered honestly. He looked down at his glass and once more looked up at Harry. "And I know Gabrielle will be safe with you. While it is not the future I sought for my youngest daughter, I do not believe she could have chosen a better path."
Neither said anything for a few moments. Harry pondered the situation and felt the only thing he could say was the truth.
"Alain, I love Hermione and Luna with all of my heart. Under different circumstances I would tell you that Gabrielle would have no chance to have a place there," he explained and took a sip of his cognac. He looked out the window and into the tree line, searching for the words that mirrored his thoughts.
Alain said nothing but he, too, took a sip of his cognac and looked out at the land, not wanting to interrupt the man who would shortly be more than just a son in his heart, but in the eyes of the law as well.
"You know, when I met Hermione on the Hogwarts' Express, I saw in her a kindred spirit. I didn't actually consciously know that at the time, but somehow we connected to one another that Halloween, when I stopped a troll from killing her," Harry said, trying to find a path through the conversation.
"Three years later, I found our Luna," he said, looking over and meeting Alain's eyes. "I didn't think I would ever have a happier evening than the Yule Ball that year. Here I was, entered into a competition I didn't want to be in, hadn't entered my name in," he looked back out to the grounds once more, "and yet I had not a single care in the world because I was dancing with, in my mind, the two most beautiful girls in the world and still had no idea how I had managed it," he said, chuckling slightly at the memory.
"That is when you truly met Fleur?" Alain asked.
Harry laughed a moment. "Yes. Her date was an older Ravenclaw, Roger Davies. You may know him from your dealings with the Ministry," Harry said, looking sideways at Alain.
The older man snorted and nodded. "Yes. Quite the blustering fool," Alain said, taking another sip. "He tends to avoid me after he spoke disparagingly of Fleur, having the audacity to make claims against her person until he discovered I was her father."
Harry turned and looked at him. "Really? What claims?" he asked in mild curiosity.
"Things true gentlemen would never say," Alain replied with a pointed look.
"Ah," Harry replied as he looked back out the window. "Anything he would have to say about her would have no merit in my eyes, regardless. And, yes," he explained, swirling his glass a bit before he emptied his glass, "that was the evening I truly met Fleur. She was upset that the idiot was not as immune to her thrall as she had believed. The three of us found her crying frustrated tears outside."
"I think if you were to talk with her, she would only remember the details of that evening from that point on," Alain explained. "She wrote two letters home that evening. She wrote one letter to us and one to Gabrielle." He paused as Harry held up the bottle to refill his glass. He nodded and waited until the glass was topped off before continuing.
"I didn't think I had ever seen Gabrielle so excited before. Fleur had told her of meeting you and how Gabrielle's hero was much better in real life than in any of the children's books she had spent hours reading as bedtime stories," Alain explained as he smiled at Harry's expression. "Yes, Gabrielle was completely and utterly infatuated with you and knew you would fall in love with her if she ever had the chance to meet you."
"And she did. Have a chance to meet me, that is," Harry said somewhat sadly.
"None of that now, Harry. I think she realised shortly after you rescued her, Hermione, and Luna, especially after that fiasco on the dock, that compared to those two, she was just a little girl with a crush," Alain said softly.
"Do you want to know something funny, Alain?" Harry asked as he once more looked at the older man through the corner of his eye. Alain nodded.
"When Fleur and Gabrielle kissed me on the dock, and Warrior Princess Hermione appeared, I think I got to watch as Gabby, the little girl with the crush on the Boy-Who-Lived, was burned away by the love she has for Hermione," he explained brightly with a snort. "I think it was cemented when Hermione grasped Fleur by the hair and kissed her. Here was a clearly-attached witch who had the courage to kiss another girl in front of hundreds of people and also managed to kiss a Veela senseless."
"And what of your feelings for Fleur, Harry?" Alain asked with a touch of concern in his voice.
Harry turned to face Alain and waited for him to meet his eyes.
"Alain, whatever my feelings may be, they will be put aside for Fleur's needs. To be perfectly honest, I am far more concerned about the situation with Fleur than I am with the situation with Gabrielle. You must certainly know that my relationship with Gabrielle is going to become that of husband and wife within a few weeks at most and that another formal Celebration of Union will be announced shortly," Harry said with a hint of questioning.
Alain nodded and both men took sips of their cognac.
Harry looked down at his glass and watched the reflections ripple upon the surface of the deep amber fluid. "Fleur loves Bill very much. That will likely never change. That her attacker killed him and that she, for the most part, was forced to enjoy her experience is going to make her feel guilt I cannot even imagine. She needs a brother, a father, a mother, and three younger sisters more than she needs a lover. Eventually, from what little I know of her, she may want to have a more intimate relationship with someone. Somehow, I doubt that intimate relationship will be with me," Harry said softly before he looked up from the cognac and met Alain's gaze once more. "If, however, that is what she wants, I will not turn her away," Harry said resolutely. "If it came to that, I think my rejecting her would do far more harm than good."
Alain set his glass down on the desk and, to Harry's surprise, took Harry's glass from him and set it on the desk as well. Alain then gave Harry a fierce hug. Harry was more surprised at the hug, but after a few moments returned it.
Alain pushed out of the hug, looked at the surprised look on Harry's face and hugged him again. He released it when he had his own emotions firmly clamped down again.
"You, Harry, are amazing. Thank you," Alain said though not entirely masking the melancholy that was gripping him. He handed Harry back his glass before picking his own up and proposing a toast to the confused young man.
"To those we love and cherish. Long may we do so," he said, holding his glass up to Harry, who clinked his glass and both drank their glasses halfway empty. Both men grimaced for a moment as the heat of the alcohol burned its way down their throat and warmed their stomachs.
Harry topped their glasses off again. "I am not very good at this sort of thing, Alain, but what comes to mind is that I hope I am at least a tenth the father to my children as you so clearly are for yours," he explained and held his glass up to Alain.
Alain shook his head wryly and clinked his glass against Harry's but spoke first. "Harry, you are a far better man now than I was when I was twice your current age. You will be a wonderful father to all of your children. I need but see the smile on the girls' faces to know that," he said before he gestured for Harry to drink and the two men once more tipped back their glasses and drained them.
Harry picked up the bottle to refill their glasses when Alain held his hand over his. "No. One more and I won't be able to walk, much less think."
Harry nodded and set the half-full bottle down. Their glasses and the bottle disappeared with the sound of small fingers snapping. Harry looked over to see Orenda.
"Mistress Hermione asks the two of you to meet with her in the main library, Master Harry," the elf said, twisting her hands in anxiety.
"Whatever is the matter, Orenda? Why are you upset?" Harry asked.
"Mistress Hermione, Mistress Luna, and Mistress Hermione's Gabrielle are crying and Orenda doesn't know how to be helping them, Master Harry," Orenda explained in concern.
Harry knelt down and took Orenda's hands into his own. "Well, you did the right thing coming and getting us. Thank you, Orenda," Harry said before he released one of Orenda's hands.
Without asking, Orenda took Alain's hand and popped the two men into the midst of a four-way feminine crying contest and an overwhelmed Apolline trying to hug them all.
"I was happier than I can say when Luna flooed to let me know you were safe. You father was having the elves tear the house apart looking for you," Apolline chided Gabrielle, who had the good graces to appear to feel guilty. Apolline turned to Hermione. "Are you certain us being here isn't going to be a burden? I know you and Luna will be able to take care of Fleur's needs, but we don't want to impose."
Hermione gave Apolline an appraising look. "Don't make me start referring to you as Mademoiselle Delacour, Apolline," she said, causing Apolline to give her a mock look of indignation. "You opened your home to us after defeating Tom Riddle..." Apolline interrupted her.
"As any true friend would!" Apolline exclaimed, though affectionately.
"True, but we wanted to be out of Britain and give Harry time to come to terms with what he had done. You and Alain were like surrogate parents to him. Really, to all three of us," Hermione explained.
"There can be no debts between family, daughter of my heart," Apolline explained as she stood, walked over to the brunette witch, and took her hand. "Do not make the mistake that you somehow owe us anything."
Hermione nodded, though her thoughts and vision were elsewhere.
Apolline remembered all too well when Harry and Luna had brought a nearly-catatonic Hermione to the Delacour ancestral home.
Although Hermione had sent her parents to Australia, she had not altered their memories as she had told everyone. When it had come to that, she had realised she loved and respected both her parents and herself too much to strip their memories from them.
Both of her parents had written letters to her every day while they were separated. When Harry and Luna had journeyed with her to Australia, it was with a bright smile and a joy-filled heart. When Hermione opened the safety deposit box at the Sydney branch of St. George Bank, instead of the letter she expected, there was a letter directing her to a solicitor's office.
Hermione sat and listened to the solicitor's meaningless platitudes of sympathy as he explained her parents had been killed when a runaway lorry had ploughed through the building that had housed their dental practice after the driver suffered an acute deep vein pulmonary thrombosis. While her mother, Sarah, had been killed instantly, her father, Roger, held on for two days. The solicitor handed her his last letter.
"I'm sorry we couldn't be here for you, Kitten. Your mother and I love you very much," she read. It had clearly been dictated to someone as the letter was written in a clearly-feminine script.
The letter had slipped from her hand and fluttered to the floor.
To Hermione, the weeks that followed had been empty and hollow. She had few lucid memories of that time. Most of those memories were of either Luna or Harry, or both of them together, having done some small task or having made some small gesture to attempt to pull her back from the brink of the abyss to which her despair had brought her.
For many nights, either Alain or Apolline had sat with the trio as Harry and Luna tried to help Hermione through her grief. Then, when tragedy struck again and took Luna's father, Xenophilius, from her, Apolline had, many times, held both girls at once, letting them cry out their grief.
Harry had done what he thought was best – trying to stay awake and available for them. When word had arrived about Xeno's passing, Harry managed to stay awake for twelve days straight. On the thirteenth day, he had been talking to Alain when he suddenly went wide-eyed, clutched at his temples, and collapsed in a heap at Alain's feet. Both Delacour adults had feared the worst, only to discover Harry had been surviving on very little food, willpower, and magic. His lack of self-worth actually helped both girls as they now had something to focus on.
Though Harry slept for three days and nights, both girls took care of him and each other in shifts.
It had been Padma and Parvati Patil who had taken care of both families' arrangements. As the Lovegood family was one of the older families in Britain, Xeno's body was held in stasis until the new heir, Luna, could be available to light the Gubraithian Fire within his funeral pyre. For Hermione's parents, they had spoken with the solicitor and found a letter documenting their desires. Sarah and Roger had already selected a plot they had purchased which overlooked the Straits of Dover and the French coastline.
The Twins, as Apolline had dubbed them, had taken care of all the arrangements on the muggle side, including having Sarah's and Roger's remains transported from Sydney to Britain.
With the girls seemingly on the mend and now focused on Harry's health and well-being, including quite a bit of nagging by both Fleur and Gabrielle, Harry, too, had recovered.
"Hermione, is everything okay?" Apolline asked of Hermione. When, after the third time she asked the question with no response, she placed a hand on Hermione's shoulder.
Hermione looked at Apolline and tears welled up in her eyes. "Mum? Daddy?" she whispered as the tears and their underlying emotions constricted her throat.
Luna rushed over to Hermione, having heard her whispered questions and watched as her lover unexpectedly experienced an emotional collapse she had not seen in some time. Because of the despair-filled tone of Hermione's voice and the words she spoke, coupled with the horrors she had witnessed the past several days, it seemed as if all the mental barriers she had erected against the pain of the loss of both of her parents had been torn asunder, releasing those feelings in a torrential flood of emotion. In her headlong rush into grief, Luna attached herself to the one person who reminded her so much of her mother.
Gabrielle was both frightened and immensely sad; frightened because her Veela nature was causing her to empathise with Hermione to the extent she could feel Hermione's emotional state and sad because these emotions felt as if they were her own. Even though she could see her mother was alive and well and holding her lover, Gabrielle felt as if her parents had died and it was tearing her heart asunder.
Apolline now had three hysterically emotion young women clinging to her for the barest threads of sanity and had called out Harry's name. Much to her relief, less than a minute later, both men were popped into the room on the arms of one of the Potters' elves.
Apolline and Harry walked out of the bedroom and into the sitting room beyond, where Alain had waited.
"They are asleep?" Alain asked.
"Hermione is asleep. We, however, were shooed out," Apolline explained and gave Harry a brief, odd look before she turned to her husband and smiled. "Gabrielle wanted to have a private conversation with Luna while Hermione rested."
"I see," Alain said. He then looked at Harry's concerned expression. "Something you would like to share?" he asked as he looked at the troubled young man.
Harry looked up at him with a look of indecision. Alain watched as the expression turned to one of resolve before Harry met his eyes and nodded. "Let's discuss it while we have a snack," Harry said.
Harry led them to a room he referred to as their breakfast nook, which to both Alain and Apolline appeared to be a decadent combination of a bedroom, a formal bath, and a dining room all rolled into one.
"Do you eat breakfast here often?" Apolline asked as she looked around the room that was the size of the formal dining room at the Delacour Mansion. The bed, alone, was four times the size of a normal king-sized bed.
"Not often enough," Harry said. He ran his hand through his hair as he, too, looked around the room to discern what thoughts Apolline may have had about "The Nook" as he thought of it. "The last few months have had us each working on our own endeavours as well as one or two group efforts, so we've rarely all been together and had the time to simply lounge about," Harry explained.
Apolline gave Alain a glance.
"So about our daughter's conversation with Lady Lovegood?" Alain asked as bluntly as he dared.
Harry looked up from his thoughts and gestured for the older couple to sit down. "To explain, we need to go back to my second year at Hogwarts. I, and by association Hermione, was fundamentally ostracised by almost everyone else in the school. There were a handful of people, we learned later there were even those in Slytherin, who believed me, believed Hermione, believed I was not the one who had been writing in blood on the walls or who was petrifying other students. At one point, Hermione and I had been walking to breakfast and noticed a first-year Ravenclaw limping down the corridor. She was hardly dressed for the Scottish Winter, and the clothes she did have were mismatched and much to large for her. She also did not have her wand."
"Luna?" Apolline asked.
Harry nodded. "Hermione had seen her sitting at the Ravenclaw table since the sorting, but she hadn't put together the subconscious observations she had made until we saw her in the corridor." Harry paused and wiped his face with his hands as his anxiety level grew.
"Hermione nearly lost it. After putting up with all of the rumours, lies, accusations and the like, seeing Luna like that enraged her." Harry looked up and met Apolline's gaze. "Before Hogwarts, Hermione had been at a muggle boarding school. She lasted a month there before her parents withdrew her. None of the students there liked the fact that she more easily associated with the professors and tutors, and the adults soon realised she outdistanced them in book knowledge. Needless to say, none of them were at all supportive of her. Because of this, Hermione tolerates bullies as well as a Hungarian Horntail tolerates sheep wandering through its lair."
This caused Alain to snort which, in turn, caused Harry to smile for a moment.
"Regardless, we befriended Luna and Hermione took her up to the Gryffindor girls' dormitory and kitted her out for the day in properly-fitting clothes. We agreed to meet her every morning before breakfast, just before lunch, and right after our last class each day. At first I thought of her as the little sister I never had," Harry explained.
Apolline could tell by the tightness around his eyes and his fierce focus that he was experiencing mild flashbacks, complete with strong emotional content.
"Then, I thought my life had ended. The Gryffindor Quidditch team, me included, were out on the pitch having a practice. Sirius and I had been in contact with both the Goblins and the British Department of Magical Law Enforcement in an eventually-successful bid to get him a trial with Veritaserum or, failing that, some form of diplomatic immunity from one of the ICW signatory countries or the North American Confederation of Magical Beings, so I was not nearly as worried about Sirius since he had received asylum from the NACoMB so I could focus on the events at Hogwarts," Harry said. He had closed his eyes and had begun massaging his right forearm in an effort to remain calm. This did not go unnoticed by either of the Delacours.
"I was about a hundred feet up, chasing the snitch at full speed. Hermione and Luna had told me they were going to the library to do some research. I had been out on the pitch for almost four hours so was physically a bit tired. I was less than a second from catching the snitch, pulling out of the steep dive I was in when I was suddenly somewhere else and I could see Luna and Hermione laying on the floor of a corridor that seemed familiar. They had both been petrified, though I had no way of knowing what I was experiencing wasn't some kind of dream or a hallucination. I called out their names at the top of my voice and ploughed a furrow into the pitch. I woke in the infirmary between them," he explained, looking out the window with a faraway look.
He turned to Alain. "I didn't know what to think or what to feel. I didn't hear the school's healer's explanation about using an elixir to restore them or that they were petrified. All I knew was that something had changed within me. I felt dead inside; as if the light or the spark that was my life had been not extinguished, exactly, but the fire had burned down to barely-glowing embers."
"But you still had magic. You were still alive," Alain replied, "as were the girls."
Harry smiled a smile that didn't make it to his eyes. "Yes, but for lack of a better word, I could no longer feel her..." he shook his head, "them."
"You know what happened in the chamber, either from newspapers or the WWN," Harry said, "so I was no longer thought of as the heir of Slytherin, Ginny was now a vassal to House Potter because of the Life Debt, and the school was back to normal for everyone except those petrified," Harry explained.
"And you," Alain responded, "though I am not sure there has ever been a definition of 'normal' for you," he finished with a slightly-forced laugh.
"Yes, and except for me," Harry practically whispered. He turned to Apolline. "Tell me, did Hermione or Luna ever tell you of their time in the Infirmary when they were petrified?"
Apolline gave Harry a tight little smile. "They did, Harry. Central to their tale was the fact that you spent every waking moment when you were not in class in the Infirmary with them."
Harry nodded with a genuine smile. "It was about dinner when I suddenly felt intensely energised. At first I had no idea what was happening. The moment I realised what it was I was feeling, I ran headlong to the Infirmary. They had given Luna the potion a few minutes before they gave it to Hermione. Luna was practically inconsolable when she first regained the use of her body. We clung to each other as we waited for Hermione to be restored," Harry recounted. He noticed he had been crying but wiped the tears away with a frustrated, angry gesture.
Orenda popped in with a tray of appetisers and three chilled glasses of Elven wine before she popped away.
Harry gestured to the food, "Please. Help yourselves." Alain prepared three plates for them and gave one to his wife and another to Harry.
They ate in companionable silence for a few minutes before Harry continued.
"With both of them alive again, in my eyes, I could feel the spark growing and building again. I felt it reach a peak and then something tore free within me. This sensation of tearing happened six more times. Each time, I felt whatever it was within me grow, double, and redouble in size. When it stopped, I felt like, instead of a spark, I now had a galaxy growing within me." His tears had stopped before Orenda had left the room.
"You magic was bound?!" Alain asked angrily. "What evil, dastardly, unclean, genderless, squib-like cochon did that to you? More importantly, why?!"
Harry had begun to chuckle. "Hermione, and Luna too, felt something as well within them. When I explained to the two of them about the tearing sensation, Luna told me I couldn't tell anyone about it." He turned to Alain. "Seven bindings."
"SEVEN?! *SEVEN*!?" Alain practically screamed.
"Yes, but I'm better now," Harry said, but couldn't help himself and burst into laughter.
Alain looked at him incredulously. "What in the name of...!?" Alain started, but stopped and took three deep, cleansing breaths. "What is it you find so amusing, Harry?" he asked much more calmly.
"How much power would your average person demonstrate under a single binding?" Harry asked pointedly.
"C'est vraiment des conneries!" Alain growled.
Apolline, sitting next to her husband, smacked him on the top of his head, "What kind of language is that to use in front of our host?!" she demanded.
Alain looked quite chastised and then looked at Harry. Harry had a look of incredulity on his face before he burst out laughing. "I did not intend to imply you are lying to us, Harry," Alain said, thoroughly cowed by his wife's look of anger.
"Oh, Alain, I am certain of that. Considering how upset you were, can you just imagine how upset Hermione was after she did some research?" Harry asked rhetorically.
"Regardless, that is neither here nor there at the moment. The very next morning, Hermione and I were on our way to get Luna from the Ravenclaw dorm when we heard her scream from around the bend in the corridor. We took off at a run and found that her dorm mates had not only failed to learn to not mess with Luna, but they had actually slammed the door on her fingers and locked it with her hand trapped between the door and the doorjamb," Harry ignored their shocked looks and shouldered on in the retelling.
"She didn't cast a spell. She didn't even have her wand in her hand. The door disintegrated into a cloud of splinters that flew into the Ravenclaw common room. Hermione's hair was blowing around in an eldritch wind. Her hair and fingertips were crackling with magic. She told me to take Luna to the Infirmary. Luna had been moaning in pain from her crushed fingers, but the moment I took hold of her arm to support her, we were both instantly in the Infirmary. Luna was being tended to within seconds and her physical wounds healed within minutes," Harry explained.
"I don't know precisely what spells Hermione used on those Ravenclaws, but all of them were, and still are, utterly terrified of both Hermione and Luna. I took Luna to the Hogwarts kitchen, where the house elves provided breakfast. Whatever it was Hermione had done had taken quite some time and she had been popped by the elves to the table the elves provided in the kitchen for us."
"Once Hermione saw that Luna was safe and taken care of, she somewhat broke down and held onto us for the rest of the day. As it turned out, the professors had cancelled classes for the remainder of the week because none of the Ravenclaws could remember anything except their name, the driving and despairing desire to publicly and respectfully apologise to Luna, and a deep-seated need to never upset any one of the three of us ever again," Harry said, as he tipped his flute of elven wine back and drained it.
"I have since found out that, unbeknownst to Hermione, Luna has pledged herself to Hermione," Harry explained.
Both Alain and Apolline gasped.
"Pledged? Are you certain?!" Apolline asked.
"Do you know what that means? The books I did my research in explained it incompletely at best, and claimed it was either nothing more than a non-binding promise to it being akin to a soul or life bond," Harry explained.
"The Veela know much of pledging to another. Do you know what Luna's gift to Hermione was?" Apolline asked.
"Gift?" Harry asked, then after a few moments of pondering, questioned himself whether he should share his suspicions. "If I am not mistaken, Luna, freely with love and devotion, gave Hermione a head-of-house ring she acquired through the rites of the victor through trial by combat and the rights of the victor for the spoils of that same combat," Harry explained.
"Merde!" Apolline swore softly in awe. "Do you think she knew what she was doing?"
"Most definitely. This is Luna we're talking about, after all. When she arrived home with it, she rather casually took it off her own finger and gave it to Hermione. She said, 'To the victor, the spoils,' removed the ring from her own finger, took Hermione's hand, extended her right ring finger, and slid the ring on," Harry explained, remembering how child-like, not childish, Luna had seemed when she had given Hermione the ring.
"Harry, you may not realise this, but Luna was essentially giving her life over to Hermione," Apolline explained, though Harry could tell she was quite surprised. "The normal level of pledging one's self to another is akin to the bond of brotherhood. What Luna has done is far and above that...and do you know why she did this to Hermione and not to you?" she asked.
"Luna acknowledged a life debt for the episode with the basilisk and another after the fall of Tom Riddle. She told me the first time the three of us were intimate that she owed me two life debts, a line debt for House Lovegood, and that I owned her very soul," Harry explained and looked pointedly at Apolline even though the older witch stared at him with a hardened glare.
"What would you have me do? Tell her she is not worth it? Deny Luna her own self-worth when I told her I could not accept that? When I made that mistake in the moment, she was first hopelessly sad until she remembered I had no pureblood upbringing."
Harry stood and paced a few moments, allowing him to collect his thoughts. Apolline felt thoroughly chastised. "Of course a British-born pureblood would think in the terms Luna considered," Apolline thought to herself sadly. In France, they would be considered the best of friends, or lovers if that is what both parties chose. In archaic Britain, the person who placed themselves at risk essentially owned the life they saved.
It was then that the light of understanding dawned on her but wanted confirmation. "She acknowledged a life debt for you killing Tom Riddle?" she asked.
"She did," Harry answered mid-pace.
"Did she do that intentionally?" Apolline asked, wanting to ensure Harry understood what she had done.
"Oh yes. I was quite amused, considering it registered life debts at the Ministry and Gringott's for anyone ever affected by Riddle," Harry replied.
"What did you do?"
"I instigated a tithe system." Harry replied and laughed heartily for a few moments. "The Goblins later told me they had to use shovels to move the galleons out of the lobby of Gringott's."
"How much?" Alain asked, not recalling ever having heard about this from his own account manager at Gringott's.
"One galleon per life per year. For most families, the Goblins take the tithe out as part of their vault services," Harry said, suddenly somber.
"What do you do with it all?" Apolline asked.
"It goes to St. Mungos or Saint Barthélemy's. Last year you may recall both getting a new pre-natal care wing," Harry admitted. Apolline looked at him quizzically. Harry answered the silent question he thought was being asked. "Both Hermione and Luna have been dropping subtle and not-so-subtle hints about having children soon. Shouldn't all of Britain, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and France benefit from their being more Potters, Blacks, and Lovegoods in the world?" Harry asked rhetorically in a coy voice.
"Wait! You're the head of the Black family as well? I though Sirius was alive and well," Alain responded.
Harry shook his head and filled his wine flute again. He set the bottle down, took a sip of the sweet, white, magically-infused wine before turning back to the two. "Sirius was in Azkaban for nearly eleven years. Due to the lack of care, the long-term effects of dementors, and an issue with his core, Sirius can no longer father children at all. It's the reason he and Ginny are still together. He made me his heir and then, to enact his will, he swore an oath of fealty to me to make me the new head of House Black," Harry explained as the Black Head of House ring appeared on his right ring finger in a flash of yellow magic.
"So had you planned Gabrielle being your third wife all along?" Alain asked with a touch of anger.
Harry immediately became defensive. "Alain, what the hell? Not just no, but hell no! We had planned on rotating the family names through all the children so there would be a guaranteed heir for each house, regardless of the genders of the children or the particular house's requirements for an heir. I can assure you that Gabrielle is not going to be some kind of unloved brood mare," Harry said hotly before he stalked over to the loveseat the two were sitting on. His anger burned hotly and his eyes glowed in righteous indignation.
Alain stood, but had no intention for a confrontation or a fight. He held his hands up, palms out, in a gesture of supplication. "Please forgive a father his concern for his daughters, especially considering Fleur's circumstances and all that has happened in the past few days. Gabrielle has had many boys sniffing and chasing after her."
Harry's shoulders slumped. "Alain, I thought you, of all people, would know better than that. What happened to me being the most honourable man you know? I would never take advantage of Gabrielle, much as I would never take advantage of Fleur." He looked into Alain's eyes searchingly.
Alain, too, seemed to be searching Harry's soul for the truth of the matter. Whatever it was each of them saw in the other's eyes provided them the answers for which they had searched.
"I unreservedly apologise, my son," Alain said contritely and held his hand out.
Harry grasped his wrist and nodded. "There is nothing to forgive. As you said, looking out for your daughters."
"The strength of will Gabrielle demonstrated when you arrived seemed to surprise you...?" Harry said questioningly.
"We had not expected our daughter to be wilful to us," Alain explained.
Harry nodded then looked to Apolline.
She looked at him and watched his eyes. Suddenly, her eyes widened. "She has already chosen," she said with an edge of surprise.
"She has," Harry replied.
"Chosen what?" Alain asked in a tense, clipped voice.
Apolline looked at him with an expression reserved for husbands the world over who appeared to be inexplicable dense at times. "She's decided to join them for life, Alain," Apolline said.
Alain looked relieved. "Is that what you're worried about?" he asked and watched her nod. "Oh thank goodness! I knew that before we left home," he responded somewhat cheerfully.
A cross expression darkened Apolline's face. "You are truly an infuriating man, Alain. I do still love you, though sometimes I question why," she said and punctuated her statement with a smile that took Alain's breath away.
"And Luna's and Gabrielle's conversation?" Apolline asked.
"Best guess?" Harry asked. At Apolline's slight nod, he continued. "Yes, well that... Gabrielle is likely asking Luna the best way to seduce Hermione. Luna is somewhat a master...er...mistress...um...expert at seduction," Harry stammered as Apolline's eyebrow rose higher.
"And you are not?" Alain asked, amusement clearly written on his face.
Apolline's eyebrow plummeted and she looked at Alain with incredulity. "Are you insane?!" she asked and waved her hands in the air before she pointed at Harry while her attention was still on her husband.
"First, he is a man. While he has matured somewhat, due to his gender handicap, he still only has the emotional range of a tablespoon," she began, then looked over at the shocked and hurt look on Harry's face. "Oh, very well then. The emotional range of a large serving spoon."
"Second, his upbringing was atrocious and would not have prepared him for any form of seduction," she paused as they both looked at Harry, who simply shrugged his shoulders and nodded.
"Third, this is Harry Potter. Likely he has never had to seduce a young woman to get one willing to bed him. He could probably stand in Diagon Alley in London, Middle Road in Hogsmeade, The Great Square in Paris, or any other magical enclave the world over and announce he wanted sex and quite nearly every witch and some wizards would race to be given the privilege of having Harry Potter," she said and again both looked at Harry. His hand covered his face and the bright red blush on his cheeks all but confirmed it.
"Has that happened, Harry?" Alain asked.
"Except for the announcing I wanted sex, pretty much. While it has gotten better, there are still witches out there more than willing to risk an encounter with Hermione or Luna to ravage me," Harry replied.
"Don't you mean ravish?" Alain asked.
"When they're tearing at each other to tear my clothes off, no. I believe I've stated it correctly," Harry replied and blushed a deeper shade of crimson.
"So, seduction," Alain replied.
"Luna may also be talking about Gabrielle's reasons for choosing now to join us. They could be discussing my shortcomings, the length of my..." he stuttered at Apolline's raised eyebrow, "...that is they could be discussing the weather. Likeliest topic is how Gabrielle wants to melt Hermione into a puddle of utterly, sexually-spent, ravished brunette. And that seduction will likely happen before our Union," Harry explained.
Alain's mouth opened and closed without a sound. His eyes were wide and unfocused.
The corners of Apolline's mouth turned up. "That is essentially what I expected their topic of conversation to be," she said in a nonchalant fashion, "but tell me Harry, doesn't it make you the slightest bit jealous?" she asked.
Harry smirked. "Apolline, you're joking. A beautiful young woman making love to my eldest wife would hardly make me jealous. Considering she will become my youngest wife shortly thereafter makes me feel more loved than you can possibly appreciate."
Apolline raised her eyebrow.
"Besides," Harry continued, "I get to watch!" he exclaimed, the brightness of his smile making even the sun envious.